If you, like Top Gear, spend the majority of your waking hours poking round the grimy end of the car classifieds, you’ll at some point have been enticed by the prospect of an insurance write-off: a car being offered inordinately cheap, simply because it’s been lightly crashed and some insurance company has decided it’s not worth the cost of repair.
But is it ever a good idea to buy an insurance write-off? To find out, consumer champions Paddy, Chris and Freddie set out to grab themselves a fast exciting car for slow-boring-car money.
For £6,000, Paddy bagged himself a Cayman S with a lightly scraped nose and a rather more heavily scraped rear. Freddie picked up a Maserati Quattroporte, in pristine condition apart from everything forward of the windscreen. And Chris got a MkI Ford Focus RS which… was weirdly pretty much perfect. At least until he came head-to-head with Flintoff in the inaugural game of Car Park Musical Chairs.
And that was just the warm-up act. The presenters then were ordered to make their cars road-legal (a quicker job for some than others), and report to London’s glitzy Alexander Palace, where the Top Gear producers had constructed an enormous Wall Of Death. A hundred feet wide, 25 feet tall, and completely, terrifyingly vertical. Time for a very different kind of sideways action…
What was the greatest fast-car era of them all? The Sixties, age of the Miura, E-Type and GT40? The… quite-recenties, when the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 and LaFerrari duked it out?
Strong suggestions, but Top Gear’s vote goes to the late Eighties and early Nineties, when a gaggle of iconic supercars redefined automotive possibility by smashing past 200mph, and looking utterly awesome while doing so. We’re talking Ferrari F40, we’re talking Lamborghini Diablo, we’re talking Jaguar XJ220. We’re talking ‘really long and somewhat heated conversations with the BBC insurance department’.
The plan? A nice drive across Yorkshire, before letting the old guns off the leash on Elvington’s monstrously long runway, where Freddie fancied at shot at the double-ton in his Jag. However, as you may have read, things didn’t go exactly to plan…
Who doesn’t love an ice cream van? Apart from, y’know, dentists. And the lactose intolerant. And local councils. And… well, actually turns out quite a lot of people don’t love ice cream vans any more. Which is why they’re dying out, their numbers declining year after year.
But fear not, because Paddy’s got a plan to reinvent the ice cream for the 21st century, in the shape of… Mr Nippy. It’s all-electric. It’s very off-road. It’s equipped with street sweepers, for reasons not entirely clear to the rest of us. Point is, this is the ice cream van to save the ice cream van!
Clearly there was only one location for Paddy to test out his suspiciously massive creation: the balmy seaside town of Blackpool. Less clearly, there was also another location the producers wished Paddy to test out his suspiciously massive creation: a military training village on Salisbury Plain.
The greatest cars on the planet are not supercars. Or sports cars. Or even, despite what Chris Harris may believe, little old rusty French cars. No, the greatest cars on the planet are hire cars. Specifically those hired for a very small amount of money from a very disreputable vendor, and then driven with utter disdain for their long-term mechanical health.
To celebrate the joy of rentals, the boys descended on Cyprus – the balmy Mediterranean island home to the cheapest hire cars in Europe – armed with big ambitions and a tiny amount of money. 30 Euros to each hire a car for the weekend. Which didn’t leave a whole lot left over for the excess damage waiver: not good news when the packed holiday itinerary included some (very) hot laps of a local track, a spot of car water-skiing, and a spot of car, um, actual-skiing.
If there’s one thing Britain does better than anyone else in the world, it’s gravy. But if there’s another thing Britain does better than anyone else in the world, it’s grand tourers. Cars built to travel great distances at great speed in great luxury.
To celebrate the latest generation of British GTs, Paddy, Chris and Freddie set off on a Welsh road trip in the Bentley Flying Spur, McLaren GT and Aston Martin DBX. Two of which, arguably, aren’t actually grand tourers at all, but hey let’s not worry about tiny technical details like that.
However, the producers – clearly thinking this all sounded far too much like a nice pleasant road trip – decided to invite along a bit of competition. In the shape of the three German rivals. And an actual German F1 ace on driving duties.
Here’s a question the so-called mainstream automotive media don’t dare to ask: is the new Honda E the best small electric vehicle on sale today… if you’re trapped in the middle of an abandoned theme park and need to reach the exit as quickly as possible? Or would you be better off in one of its battery-powered rivals?
To find the answer to this surprisingly common predicament, the boys commandeered (a) a Honda E, (b) a Mini E, (c) a Vauxhall Corsa-e and (d) Alton Towers.
Bolton. Home to Paddy McGuinness – not that he often mentions it – and twinned with the French town of Le Mans. And what better way to celebrate this frankly tenuous connection than by forcing Paddy, Chris and Freddie to spend 24 hours in the latest saloon offerings from Tesla, Volvo and BMW… in Bolton? And when we say ‘spend 24 hours in’, we mean quite literally that. A whole day without leaving their cars. Tie a knot in it, lads.
Generating very nearly 1000 horsepower courtesy of no fewer than four separate power sources, the SF90 is the fastest and most complicated Ferrari of them all. To give it a thorough going-over, there was only one man: the fastest and also the most complicated Top Gear presenter of them all. Harris.
Earlier this year, Britain lost one of its great sporting heroes. Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss. Chris Harris pays tribute to one of the all-time racing legends, a true gentleman renowned for his dedication to (a) great speed, (b) great sportsmanship and (c) the crumpet.
What’s the ultimate, money-no-object family car? According to Chris Harris, it’s an estate. Specifically the Audi RS6 Avant. According to Patrick McGuinness, it’s an SUV. Specifically the Lamborghini Urus. Our very own Plato and Socrates headed to Dunsfold to settle this important philosophical debate. With the assistance of some caravans, obviously.
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Top Gear, Paddy McGuinness, Chris Harris, Andrew Flintoff, Lamborghini
World news – GB – Here’s your big Top Gear series 29 preview